Does anyone actually listen at "reference" level? - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 73 Old 11-14-2011, 03:57 PM - Thread Starter
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From what I gather, reference level is determined to be 105db. Is that correct?

Anyway we watched a couple of movies over the weekend. Viewing/listening distance is about 10'.

During the action portions (Green Lantern and Fast Five) it was loud. I really wouldn't have wanted it much louder and my wife for sure did not want it any louder. Much to my surprise the loudest parts were only just over 92db at the listening position.

I'm sure if I had a better sub or was in a smaller room certain parts of the movies would've have exceeded that.

But I just couldn't imagine wanting to listen to a movie with 105db peaks or music approaching anywhere near that.

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post #2 of 73 Old 11-14-2011, 04:07 PM
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I believe its peak levels at 105db, while average listening volume is closer to 95db.

90+db works in movies because average level is much lower. I don't think I could listening to music at that level for a sustained amount of time could be comfortable.
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post #3 of 73 Old 11-14-2011, 04:11 PM
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I don't. Many people will recommend not buying a certain speaker for a certain room because it won't hit reference levels from x feet away. I always find this kind of silly. If one will never listen at reference, then that should not be a concern. Usually the professional speaker group will say this.
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post #4 of 73 Old 11-14-2011, 04:18 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by benclement11 View Post

I don't. Many people will recommend not buying a certain speaker for a certain room because it won't hit reference levels from x feet away. I always find this kind of silly. If one will never listen at reference, then that should not be a concern. Usually the professional speaker group will say this.
The loudest I go on my receiver is -20.

Well, -20db is a good volume, I think if I lived in a single family style home, I'd probably be playing mine at -15db to -10db. I was playing it at -15db and the neighbors next door would be knocking at the door.

One reason why you want to be able to play at those levels is so that when you're playing it at more modest levels, the speakers are not straining at all.
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post #5 of 73 Old 11-14-2011, 04:19 PM
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You have a giant commercial auditorium... or do you want your ears to bleed?

Reference Level in a living room home theater is ridiculous.

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post #6 of 73 Old 11-14-2011, 04:19 PM
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I listen at -13 most of the time - will kick it up to -10 if the movie was mastered a bit lower, which sometimes seems to be the case. That's already loud enough to make it feel like the walls are going to collapse on my head given the right movie - but not loud enough to do structural damage (yet).
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post #7 of 73 Old 11-14-2011, 04:21 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dan Hitchman View Post

Reference Level in a living room home theater is ridiculous.

Exacly Dan.

What people don't realize is that "Reference Level" was/is meant and developed for mixing movies for commercial theaters. The environment is completely different than what most people will have.

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post #8 of 73 Old 11-14-2011, 04:38 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dan Hitchman View Post

You have a giant commercial auditorium... or do you want your ears to bleed?

Reference Level in a living room home theater is ridiculous.

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post #9 of 73 Old 11-14-2011, 05:04 PM
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I find THX reference level to be listenable, loud but not extremely loud, in fact not nearly as loud as clubs or concerts. It also depends on what movie you are watching too, if it is some movie mixed very hot with lots of 0 dBFS maximum amplitude, yes, that will be obnoxious. Also, when you go out to the movies do you feel it is too loud in there? Many commercial movie theaters are set to reference.

Some will say that sound systems stressed beyond their clean playback level will emit distortion that makes the sound seem louder than it really is, so if zero on your volume is pushing your system louder than it can handle, that could be the cause. Not many setups can really do THX reference easily at the listening position, and very few subwoofer systems can handle that, as subs have to be able to do 115 db, not just 105 db.
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post #10 of 73 Old 11-14-2011, 05:42 PM
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I'll take clarity over loud any day of the week.

I've been in theaters that have been very loud with poor quality sound.

I like my hearing, I'd like to preserve it
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post #11 of 73 Old 11-14-2011, 06:25 PM
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This has been discussed before and it depends on the room. I listen at reference all the time and it sounds fantastic with no compression and no audible distortion. For music 100dbs is the loudest I go. In matter of fact my kids can sit thru toy story or tangled at -10MV and enjoy it. Again it depends on the room and mine does not echo at all, vibrate, rattle, etc....
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post #12 of 73 Old 11-14-2011, 06:27 PM
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+1
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post #13 of 73 Old 11-14-2011, 06:27 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sebberry View Post

i'll take clarity over loud any day of the week.

I've been in theaters that have been very loud with poor quality sound.

I like my hearing, i'd like to preserve it

+1
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post #14 of 73 Old 11-14-2011, 06:29 PM
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I do understand that there is a different eq when it comes to a movie theater vs a living room.

But to say that reference level is different in different settings, to me is just wrong,

If reference level is 85 to 90 db nominal, with 105 db peaks, (at lp) then is a db different depending what size room you are in? I don't think so. I feel it is more likley that people have there avr's set up with boosts that bring the actually level higher than reference when then approach 0.

I myself watch movies no higher than -10db. Above that I am worried that I will lose another ceiling panel in the kitchen, (it happend during tron)...

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post #15 of 73 Old 11-14-2011, 06:43 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Audiophile34 View Post

I do understand that there is a different eq when it comes to a movie theater vs a living room.

But to say that reference level is different in different settings, to me is just wrong,

If reference level is 85 to 90 db nominal, with 105 db peaks, (at lp) then is a db different depending what size room you are in? I don't think so. I feel it is more likley that people have there avr's set up with boosts that bring the actually level higher than reference when then approach 0.

I myself watch movies no higher than -10db. Above that I am worried that I will lose another ceiling panel in the kitchen, (it happend during tron)...

Rooms are completely different...ie. first reflection points, the length to the first reflections (ie. proximity to a wall). In a living room, you can be just ten feet or less from a wall...in a commercial theater, you could be 30-40 feet or more from a wall. Then add in absorption and dispersion treatment. The rooms are very different. It isn't the SPL level...it is how you get there.

Sit in a anechoic chamber, and the sound is very dull because there are no reflections.

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post #16 of 73 Old 11-14-2011, 06:43 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jclif77 View Post

+1

I refuse to go to the theater anymore. To answer the question, it depends on the material. A good movie with lots of Boom..yes...an excellent concert like Toto Falling In Between Live? That's a given. The Proposal...not even close!

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post #17 of 73 Old 11-14-2011, 07:07 PM
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I rarely go above -15 on my receiver. Although I am only using a pair of CM5s, anything higher and it starts turning into noise rather than music.

Speaking of loudness, how far do you think CM5s will go before damage starts to occur?
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post #18 of 73 Old 11-14-2011, 07:12 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sebberry View Post

I'll take clarity over loud any day of the week.

I've been in theaters that have been very loud with poor quality sound.

I like my hearing, I'd like to preserve it

I would take both! I have been to great cinemas and crappy ones, I just go to the good ones.
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post #19 of 73 Old 11-14-2011, 07:45 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by benclement11 View Post

The loudest I go on my receiver is -20.

I have an Onk 807, Emo XPA-3, Polks M-70's, CS2 with 40's and 30's for surrounds and wides.

I was watching Tron Legacy with my barely teen and pre-teen daughters at -23 with the Epik Empire dialed up. My wife came into the room and shouted, "If the neighbors don't call the cops, I will!!!!!" We just shouted back, "wait, the good parts coming up"

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post #20 of 73 Old 11-14-2011, 07:50 PM
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I watch most movies at -25 to -19 on the master volume depending on the type of the movie and whether it's a bluray, Netflix, or DirecTV. If it's an excellent Bluray transfer, I will usualy go a little higher but end up turning it back down typicaly after an hour or so into the movie.

When cranked up, it can easily hit 114db bass peaks at LP but I never listen that loud for more then a few minutes...
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post #21 of 73 Old 11-15-2011, 04:39 AM
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I watch most movies at -10 to -8db. At -10db I will peak at 115db, as my sub EQ is hot from 30hz down. If its a shoot 'em up guys flick, I'll do reference. That happens maybe 3-5 times a year, or during a 10 min demo session.

I wonder if my room size (32x18) is large enough that it behaves closer to a commercial setting? Whatever the case, there's nothing painful about reference volume. Scary, yes. Painful, no.

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post #22 of 73 Old 11-15-2011, 05:42 AM
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My modest HT setup is in a rather small space, and the loudest I've ever gone is -22db (which sounds pretty darn loud to me), with my typical listening volume being closer to -28db. I don't think I could go much louder without upgrading my receiver and probably adding some acoustic treatments.
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post #23 of 73 Old 11-15-2011, 06:01 AM
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Many good points here. Like cschang and MK said, the room and your position in it can make a huge difference on your experience at different volume levels. The other huge variable that most are not mentioning when giving their opinion is what their equipment is. Can it get to reference CLEANLY with headroom from their listening position?? If not, then its going to sound too loud no matter what.

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post #24 of 73 Old 11-15-2011, 08:12 AM - Thread Starter
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Thanks for the info. Thought perhaps I was missing something. I'm currently running a 2.1 consisting of some old (1993) B&W 201 BS and an old Audio Source 15" sub. Even powered with a HK AVR1600 (rated at 50watts) I can't get about -15db on most sources without feeling it's too loud.

I'm looking forward to when our new house will be finished and I can finally get a proper surround setup and some new speakers.

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post #25 of 73 Old 11-15-2011, 09:08 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Audiophile34 View Post

I do understand that there is a different eq when it comes to a movie theater vs a living room.

But to say that reference level is different in different settings, to me is just wrong,

If reference level is 85 to 90 db nominal, with 105 db peaks, (at lp) then is a db different depending what size room you are in? I don't think so. I feel it is more likley that people have there avr's set up with boosts that bring the actually level higher than reference when then approach 0.

I myself watch movies no higher than -10db. Above that I am worried that I will lose another ceiling panel in the kitchen, (it happend during tron)...

Unfortunately simple SPL readings on a meter in one space does not equal the same reading in another space. I've posted about this any times, but until someone makes their own comparison/observation with a meter in hand, it's easy to remain skeptical.

Here's the short explanation. Our ears and hearing system generally determine loudness by sound power over different time intervals. In terms of sound, power is intensity over time. In other words a brief transient of a given max SPL is perceived to be less loud than a sound of the same intensity lasting 5-10x longer. After some longer time period we move to a perceived average level, like what is noted for industrial/machinery noise and loud rock concerts.

In a shorter time period, measured in milliseconds to a few seconds, duration is everything. This is where room acoustics, distortion, and compression come into play. Room acoustics are the most dominant, with amp/speaker systems and program material differences following behind.

When I first moved into our warehouse 2 years ago, we started with this concrete cavern for the back warehouse:



With just a few tables and some boxes in the space, I was able to FILL the place with sound from front to back using a few watts of power and a healthy desktop system! As we have now filled the space with work areas, shelving, packing material and product, the shop music system is now much more powerful and can be comfortably cranked up much louder.

I've heard plenty of very live living rooms which seem overly loud after calibration with an SPL meter playing movies anywhere above -10dB. I've also been in a few very powerful and extensively treated rooms, including an outdoor HT system, where playback of 0dB to even +5dB sounded great and not the least bit painful. The outdoor system was by far the biggest reality check. You can most certainly get all the bass power, impact, pant leg flapping and "pressurization" but removing all the room reflections and long decays makes for quite the revelation of just how significant the room is to what we hear.

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post #26 of 73 Old 11-15-2011, 11:04 AM
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I thought reference level was just for creating specs for speakers, amplifiers, etc... . Make sure you're comparing apples to apples for frequency plots, distortion, etc... .

I didn't know people were actually supposed to listen at that level.
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post #27 of 73 Old 11-15-2011, 11:31 AM
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So, dumb question... Mr. Seaton's explanation does seem intuitive, but do the different settings impact hearing damage differently? In other words, if you listened to 100db outdoors comfortably, but then listened to 100db in a small confined HT room and it sounded very loud... is the potential for hearing damage the same or different?
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post #28 of 73 Old 11-15-2011, 12:42 PM
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Watching a movie at reference levels is not likely to damage hearing: 105 dbs are peaks, not average volume. My setup starts sounding unbearably loud at 93~95 dbs peaks (-18 on my receiver that is not calibrated for reference at 0), but I have a very poorly treated room.
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post #29 of 73 Old 11-15-2011, 01:27 PM
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In a 5 star base movie, reference volume equates to a total exposure of less than 1 minute at those peaks.

Mark, I'm with you. I always take my SPL meter when visiting friends. The same reading on the meter is almost never the same perceived volume.

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post #30 of 73 Old 11-15-2011, 01:44 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jholzbauer View Post

So, dumb question... Mr. Seaton's explanation does seem intuitive, but do the different settings impact hearing damage differently? In other words, if you listened to 100db outdoors comfortably, but then listened to 100db in a small confined HT room and it sounded very loud... is the potential for hearing damage the same or different?

It depends...

How are you quantifying 100dB? Calibration, during playback, peaks, average, fast/slow, A or C weighting?

For many cases the answer would be that a small reverberant/reflective room will sound louder, but if that's similar or greatly different in real levels depends on how you define 100dB.

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